The more than three-week long partial shutdown of the federal government has been making headlines for its impact on government workers, government contractors, air travelers, nature lovers trying to clean up federal parks, farmers and other constituents.
Also impacted are many folks trying to purchase or sell real estate, as well as the real estate agents, escrow officers, loan offers and other professionals working with them.
“The government shutdown is an unambiguous negative for the real estate market,” according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. “And the impact will worsen if prolonged.”
The biggest and perhaps most obvious impact is on potential buyers who are currently furloughed. It’s hard to get approved for a mortgage when you’re going without a paycheck.
And the shutdown has made many buyers wary of investing in a new home.
According to a recent national N.A.R. study, one-quarter of real estate agents reported having a transaction disrupted by the partial shutdown.
Approximately 9 percent of agents reported working with a government employee or contract worker who decided not to buy a home due to the shutdown, according to the survey.
And another 6 percent of agents reported having clients who were not employed by the government decide not to proceed because of general economic uncertainty caused by the shutdown.
Regular federal employees who are on furlough or working without pay are likely to receive back pay once the shutdown comes to an end, thanks to Congressional action last week. Contract employees likely won’t.
Still, most lenders require current paystubs to approve loans and it may be a while before these folks will be able to provide that.
The Bay Area is home to a lot of employees who work for the federal government.
Livermore largest employer, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is run by the Department of Energy, which is on a different funding schedule and so not strongly impacted by the shutdown.
But other area employers are. The Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, all U.S. courts, local IRS offices, TSA screeners and air traffic control workers, federal park services, EPA workers, and immigration control officers are just a few of those impacted.
But the partial shutdown doesn’t just hit government workers.
Less directly hit are those who work for companies with federal contracts, such as satellite maker SSL, formerly Space Systems/Loral LLC in Palo Alto, which holds contracts with NASA.
And foreign nationals who are here on special work visas will not be able to get those renewed during the shutdown.
Even those citizens with secure private sector jobs with companies that do not have federal contracts may be affected.
Buyers may find it harder to get funding.
Some types of government-backed home loans will be delayed or not processed. Certain information necessary to obtain financing may be difficult to access.
About 17 percent of real estate agents reported a closing delay due to not being able to complete a USDA loan, 13 percent reporting delays due to lack of IRS income verification and 9 percent said their clients experienced delays due to longer processing times for FHA loans.
Here are some of the ways the government shutdown is impacting real estate transactions:
• Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will continue to purchase and guarantee most home mortgages without delays, since they are not reliant on appropriated funds. The same for Veterans Administration and Making Home Affordable Program (HAMP and HAFPA) home loans.
• The Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which insures loans with low down payment for first-time homebuyers, will experience delays due to reduced staff. If you are trying to purchase a condominium, however, and your complex is not already FHA-approved, it will not get approved until the government shutdown ends. FHA also will not be processing HECM reverse mortgages for seniors or loans for multi-family units during the shutdown.
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cancelled all new loans and guarantees in its Rural Development Programs, used by borrowers out in rural suburbs, including San Joaquin County. Those loans that have already received a conditional agency approval may proceed.
For the first three weeks of the shutdown, lenders were unable to verify borrowers’ income because of IRS furloughs. Copies of tax returns are routinely used to double check that buyers have provided accurate information. Earlier this week the IRS announced it will resume the processing of all forms, including requests for tax return transcripts (Form 4506T).
Lenders also can’t access the Social Security website to verify borrowers’ Social Security numbers to confirm their identity. Some lenders are using other methods of confirming identities so that closings can occur.
Some escrow officers have reported being unable to close transactions involving properties with tax liens because they could not get payoff information from the IRS.
Initially, transactions involving properties that required flood Insurance experienced delays. N.A.R. convinced the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to kick-start the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), so new and renewed policies are available now.
Most EPA employees have been furloughed, which affects various regulatory programs and compliance activities, such as wetlands determinations under the 404 program and enforcement of the lead-based paint disclosure and renovation, repair and painting programs.
N.A.R. is also predicting some sellers may hold off putting their homes on the market until the situation is more stable.
If you have been thinking about buying or selling real estates, contact your local real estate agent today.
Cher Wollard is a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties in Livermore.